Philly Eagles Training camp is coming up! Players are scheduled to report to the NovaCare complex on July 26 ahead of the first practice session on July 27. As we count the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will preview each position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the wide receiver’s position. So far: quarterback | Back race.
Everyone is absolutely blown away by AJ Brown. And rightly so! He has proven to be one of the best NFL players at his position.
But is he definitely the best wide receiver in the Eagles roster? In terms of established production, one has to agree with him now. But don’t rule out the possibility of Smith being considered 1A to Brown’s 1B by the end of the season.
Smith became criminally underutilized as a freshman; That 37 players were targeted more times than him is nonsensical. Of course, it didn’t help that the Eagles had the lowest passing rate in the NFL. Running the ball was effective for them (especially against weaker teams), but overall it limited their chances of getting the ball into the hands of one of their best players.
One would hope that the Eagles learned a lesson from not targeting Smith enough. He should benefit from an offense that passes the ball more often (how exactly is unclear though).
Smith should also benefit from a more developed relationship with Jalen Hurts. The two were certainly a click into the media-visited OTA practice they both attended.
With Brown in the group, teams can’t always assign their top cornerback to Smith’s cover. Or, if they do, they’ll be living on a CB2 with Brown.
On the downside, the downside of Brown’s entry into the equation is that it could limit Smith’s volume options. Be it cliché, there are multiple mouths to feed and only one ball going around.
Quiet. The thought here is that Smith is flying a bit under the radar with all the attention on Brown. We will only say that one would miss sleeping on the Eagles’ 2021 first-round pick as he enters Year 2. Don’t be surprised if/when he outperforms Brown. And that’s no shame for the newcomer.
Brown, who ranks Tennnesee as one of the top receivers in yards per route annually, is a very efficient target. And he produced some pretty good volume despite the Titans using such a run-heavy offense fueled by Derrick Henry.
Brown is a man among boys. He brings a physicality to the Eagles’ receiving corps that they lacked. He’s valuable as someone who can fight for the ball in the air and run through tackles after the catch. Brown’s ability to make big plays as a downfield threat should definitely not be overlooked.
In theory, the Eagles Hurts’ addition of Brown should help take him to the next level as a quarterback. That they are friendly off the field would make one think that forming chemistry on the field shouldn’t be difficult. But you have to watch so much. Hurts aimed less on field than any quarterback in 2021 (just 10% of the time, according to Football Outsiders) and that’s where 60% of Brown’s goals came from. Perhaps Brown will reveal the lack of hurts in this area. If not, then Brown would be underutilized in a key area.
It is worth monitoring this connection in the warehouse. Brown and Hurts weren’t exactly on the same page during their only OTA exercise together that the media attended. There might still be some creases to iron out.
Watkins won’t be a volume target with Smith and Brown ahead of him. However, that hardly means he isn’t important on offense. Watkins expects to see game time in the slot. While he’s mostly seen as a field carrier, which he is, he’s perhaps more versatile than you’d give credit for. Watkins has demonstrated the jump ball ability and has also been chasing the catching potential.
Efficiency is the name of the game for Watkins. The Eagles need to be able to turn to him for completions deep in the field. His ability to scorch a secondary should help open up opportunities for his teammates underneath.
I wouldn’t be so sure that Pascal is only fourth option behind a top trio of Smith, Brown and Watkins. There’s a reasonable chance Pascal will actually see more targets and/or snapshots. The thought here is that Watkins and Pascal could be 3A and 3B options behind the top two players in their position. Watkins is a field stretching slot while Pascal is a big slot that could see more opportunities in the red zone and short range situations.
Pascal didn’t have an easy time in Indy last year, but he wasn’t exactly playing with a quarterback known for maximizing his wide receivers. Now the same could be said for Hurts. But the thought is that Pascal can be effective as a role player in certain situations. At the very least, he should be a souped-up version of last year’s JJAW reel. And by that I mean a strong blocking receiver, who is not fundamentally harmless as a pass catcher.
People will often point out that there is no point in cutting Reagor because it actually causes the team to lose cap space. The argument here is that the team should find a way to trade Reagor for literally anything so they can free up $13,000 in cap space rather than take a loss. Assuming they don’t have that option, since Reagor isn’t exactly desirable, they should still be willing to cut a player who’s struggled as much as he has. And not only fought … but has given less than full effort on a number of occasions. When Reagor doesn’t really look like a different player in training camp, which isn’t easy to expect, it’s difficult to keep him on the team and claim that the team is practicing meritocracy. What role will Reagor even play if he’s WR5? It offers no value as a returnee or special team reporting type. It’s just not a good use of a roster slot.
The Eagles liked G-Ward last year as a red zone specialist. However, with Pascal in the herd, he was likely replaced in that regard. Ward is currently demoted as a backup in the slot and a safe but non-threatening punt returner.
Hightower had a really good camp as a rookie, stank in the regular season, didn’t look good in camp last year as he dealt with injury issues, then spent most of the 2021 campaign on the practice team. The Eagles used a number of practice squad protections, suggesting they still valued its potential. Hightower has had some good moments in OTAs this spring, so maybe he’s not without hope? Nobody should hold their breath, but he will have one last summer to stand up for himself.
Cain has been surprisingly effective in OTA practices. He has a few factors working in his favor: 1) he has NFL production (albeit nine catches for 124 yards) and 2) he has experience with Nick Sirianni’s system. If Cain can also excel on special teams, he could find a way to earn a roster spot.
At 5ft 8in and 173lbs, height could be an issue for Covey. With OTAs, he did not stand out as a recipient. Covey needs to perform better in training camp and preseason games. His ability to return could give him a better path to a roster spot than his competitors. Covey could potentially be the Eagles’ punt returner this season as that spot is undecided.
Allen is an interesting story given his retirement from football and his success as a hurdles star (when he’s not totally screwed by stupid rules). Can a guy who hasn’t passed a game since 2016 do enough this summer to convince the Eagles to use a roster spot against him? Would he be willing to stay on the practice team?
Hammond is a long shot to make the squad.
The Eagles signed Wheatfall after inviting him to rookie minicamp as a tryout player. So they liked something they saw. But the UDFA goes a long way to creating the roster.
Smith and Brown will guide all recipients into targets. It remains to be seen if there is a clear No. 1 option over the other, or if the gap is narrow as 1A and 1B.
Watkins and Pascal are the only other locks to make the list. They will be role players.
Reagor shouldn’t make the team, but make sure he stays anyway.
Ward, Hightower, Cain and Covey are likely fighting for a roster spot.
Hammond and Wheatfall Project as Camp Body types.
Shortening or acting out Reagor would be more remarkable than surprising.
Ward shouldn’t be considered a roster lockdown. The Eagles chose not to offer him as a restricted free agent, only bringing him back to a one-year, $1 million, non-guaranteed contract. There are a number of receivers competing with him for a fifth or sixth roster spot.